Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 18

11 Oct 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 22:34-46 (Deut 10:21-21, 1 Cor 1:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Blessed Lord compresses the entire Law into two simple statements: “love God” and “love your neighbor.” For “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In other words, divorced from the idea of love, the faith of Holy Scripture, the Christian faith, makes no sense at all. Apart from love, the holy faith is nothing more than a bloodless to-do list, a series of mind-numbingly arbitrary tasks and burdens. And this is exactly how many unbelievers see the Christian faith. This loveless and dour religion of the legalistic Pharisees and the wishy-washy Sadducees is exactly the kind of faith the haters of Christianity describe the Church to be.

This is one reason that it is fair to say that if we really care about evangelism, the best way to spread the faith is not a canned series of talking points about Jesus or a synodical program of tallying “critical events,” but rather in showing love to those around us: both our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as the unbelievers the Lord places into our lives.

For the love that our Blessed Lord speaks of – which is the very beating heart of the holy faith – is the kind of love the unbelieving world craves, but seeks in vain to find. It is Christlike love. It is godly love. It is self-sacrificial love. It is the love that St. Paul speaks of in his beautiful discourse to the Corinthians. It is a love that is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, and is neither arrogant nor rude. It is a love that is not self-seeking, irritable, or resentful. It does not take pleasure in the tearing of others down, but rejoices in truth. This kind of love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. This kind of love is eternal.

And as St. Paul tells us, a religion without this kind of love – indeed a faith of prophetic powers, of miraculous preaching, and even of martyrdom itself – is as worthless and unfulfilling as a pointless noisemaker.

For even if we can recite the Small Catechism perfectly from memory, even if we practice closed communion and do not bless gay unions, even if we uphold the six literal days of creation and cling without compromise to the virgin birth and resurrection, we accomplish nothing for the Lord’s Kingdom if we do so without love. And in fact, we may do more harm than good to the kingdom.

Our Lord Jesus says as much when he says: “On these two commandments” concerning love “depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Without understanding this holy, divine, and unconditional love, the Law and the Prophets are meaningless scribbles in a dusty, irrelevant book. However, comprehending the Holy Scriptures in light of this love, and being embraced by this love from the Most Holy Trinity, the Word of God gives life, fills our hearts with the Holy Spirit, saves us from sin and death, and brings us into fruitful labor for the kingdom.

And it is crucial to understand that this kind of love is not merely a warm feeling or a passing and self-serving lust. It is, rather, the kind of love that drives one to subordinate oneself to the beloved. It is the kind of love that impels our almighty God to humble Himself into taking human flesh. And it is the kind of love that impels humanity to humble himself unto submission to the almighty God. It is the kind of love that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things to the point of genuine obedience of the commandments, not merely the outward compliance for the sake of appearances that is inwardly grudging and resentful.

This is what Moses means by the circumcision of the heart.

The outward ritual of the covenant is of no value without inward submission. That submission is the kind of love that causes the Lord to go to the cross for His beloved, the kind of love that bids us to repent and believe the Gospel for the sake of our eternal salvation, or in the simple language of Moses: “for your good.”

For the Lord’s love – demonstrated by His birth, proved on the cross, and confirmed in the tomb – is in no way self-serving. This holy love is given to us who are “by nature sinful and unclean” as a free gift, gratis, all by grace, and flowing from the generous and boundless love and mercy of our ever-loving Father. As Moses teaches: “the Lord set His heart in love on your fathers, and chose their offspring after them.”

And we Christians seek this love when we “call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” – which St. Paul teaches us is the work of the “Church of God,” as she has first “been called to be saints.” In being “called to be saints,” we are able to “call upon the name” – the Most Holy Name of the Lord Jesus, the name that is above every name, and yet the name that was nailed to a cross above the One bearing that name. It is the calling of the called to call upon the one who calls.

Though all people experience love – only the love of Christ, the One who “sits at God’s right hand,” brings us into the fullness of love: the perfect love the Father has for the Son, the love the Triune God has for His creation. Apart from Jesus Christ, proclaimed by His Church, experienced in her proclamation of the Word and her administration of the sacraments – this love is always just out of reach.

This is why the Lord Jesus follows up His discourse on understanding the faith in terms of love with an immediate lesson on who He is. He asks them pointedly: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” For they know the doctrinally correct and biblical answer: “The Son of David.” But when the Lord Jesus cites Scripture to support His claim to the Davidic Sonship, to being the Christ, to being the Lord God in the flesh, the Pharisees are not only dumbfounded, they stop asking questions.

Their line of interrogation ends because they don’t like where the answers are leading. The unbelief of the Pharisees is not borne of ignorance, but rather of stubbornness. They are not simply missing the point, rather they are rejecting the point. It’s not that they are having trouble understanding who Jesus is, but rather they do not want to know the truth of who Jesus is. For that would require submission, humility, and obedience.

It is precisely in this context that Moses, hundreds of years before there was a faction of Judaism known as Pharisees, called the stiff-necked Israelites to repentance. And in calling for this circumcision of the heart, Moses bids the people of God to “be no longer stubborn.”

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

He is the loving God who is love. He is “gracious and merciful.” He is the one who calls us to repentance, and also calls us “saints” and invites us to “call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And He “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

Actually, this is not a response to your sermon, but a continuation of my desire to express several theological concerns regarding what I hear in sermons as I go from church to church.

You have been kind and gracious in responding to two of them:

I offended you, you will recall, by referring to the three "God Heads." You corrected my language by calling them three people or persons. I remain utterly bewidlered by that strange doctrine. I understand that both Jews and Muslims believe that Christianity worships three Gods.

I am left puzzled by preachers who claim that those physical healing stories are literal, but then they apply them to our lives as if they were metaphors which depict spiritual healing.

You have responsed to both of these concerns. I appreciate the time it took you to do that. I still have three more theological concerns that I would like to submit to you for your ressponse, one at a time. I do not want to
belabor these concerns, but very few pastors are willing to discuss them with me. They just write me off immediately as a heretic.

My question is this: Are you willing to respond to the next three theological concerns, one at a time?

"Follower of the Way"

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

I never, ever referred to the Trinity as three "people." Please retract that! No Christian believes any such thing. The word "person" does not mean "people," but is rather an Anglicization of the Latin word "persona" which does not mean "human being." Ditto with "three God Heads." If you can find me referring to God as "three people" or saying "three God heads" I will send you a crisp new $100 bill. I have more than 300 sermons posted, and you can do a search of my blog, so it should be easy money. ;-)

What Muslims and Jews believe about the Christian faith is irrelevant.

Secondly, I want to be crystal clear here (and I thought I have been), I believe the Lord's healing miracles are literal and physical. They are a preview of the completeness to come when the Lord brings to fruition His work of the new creation at the end of time. Believing in a metaphorical Jesus is like believing in the Tooth Fairy. I would not want such a phony religion. Either God really exists and really interacts with His creation, or He doesn't. If He doesn't, reading the Bible is no different than reading Mad Magazine.

All sickness is a result of sin. When the Lord cures someone of a disease, He is *literally* curing him of that disease - which is, by extension, absolution from sin. The Christian understanding of illness is that it is part and parcel of sin and death.

I understand that you do not believe this - and I don't mind debating it or discussing it with you - but I honestly don't know how to make it more clear what the Christian teaching is.

And if you have some other inquiries, please feel free to post them. I will get to them as I can, or other readers of my blog may wish to chime in too.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Here is a quote from a Lutheran theologian that explains a miracle not in terms of metaphor, but rather as an "anticipation."

"Our Lord takes this God-given and man-made bread and wine and by His mighty Word makes it His body and blood. In so doing He affirms His right by creation and conquest to all the creatures of God's hand, to all fruit of human labor, and to all the orders and institutions of the universe. But He does more. In taking a particular loaf and a particular chalice of wine as the vehicles of His body and His blood, at random, as it were, He anticipates the time when all of the groaning and travailing creation will have achieved the freedom that is its destiny, when the power of futility and of sin over it will be broken and it will possess the transfiguring glory for which it now waits in hope with such eager longing." -- A. C. Piepkorn, *The Church* pp. 199,200

This quotation came from the Rev. William Weedon's blog (which you might really enjoy) at

Pax Christi!

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

I stand corrected by your actual words. Goodby to the $100. Woe is me! I humble myself in sackcloth and ashes for using the heretical terms, "three God heads" and "three persons or people." But tell me what the word "persona" does mean when referring to God. The dictionary says, "Persona: One's personality as seen by others." Are you saying that God has three different "personalities?" If so, how do they differ from each other? Finally, please give me the Bible reference that states clearly that God has three "personae."

I believe in God my heavenly Father and creator. I believe in Jesus the Christ my Savior and his good-news message. I believe that God's spirit was a work in Jesus and his message and is still at work today through Jesus' message. But the idea of God having three "personae" does not make it through my mind to my heart. Does that make me a heretic?

I will formulate my next theological concern and send it to you next week. Thanks.


TBR "Follower of the Way"

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

That's okay. A hundred bucks doesn't buy what it used to anyway. ;-)

"Persona" is a technical term from Latin that means a "role" or "character" - for instance in the term "dramatis personae." A "persona" in a play might be a human being, but then again, it may not be (it could be a frog, a god, or a cloud, etc.).

It is an attempt to find a term to use for something that is sui generis (in a class by itself).

There are many biblical proofs of the Trinity. And since I have to leave quickly, let me leave you with just one: Matt 28:19. Note that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a "name" (singular, not plural). This unity is the unity of God (one name) with three distinct manifestations (personae) that is not simply one God wearing a different "mask" to play a different part.

The Son prays to the Father. The Father sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descends on the Son. The personae act in both unity with each other and in distinction from each other.

This is why Genesis 1:1 matches a plural noun (elohim - translated as "God") with a singular verb (bara - translated as "created"). The English translation loses this simultaneous plurality and singularity.

You keep saying "good news message" while denying the supernatural. What exactly is the "good news message" if it is not the good news that when I die, I will live again - not merely as a metaphor (big whoop!) but as a living, literal person, as myself in the flesh in a literal sense (alleluia!)?

A metaphorical gospel is no gospel at all. If the Bible is just a bunch of fables, that does nothing for me after I'm dead.

Surely, you must believe God can, does, and will physically resurrect those who "believe and are baptized" (Mark 16:16), or does this just mean we'll all have warm, fuzzy thoughts about people while they decompose?

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

One of the problems we are encountering in this exchange is that of word definition. We understand words differently and end up talking past each other, unfortunately.

For example, the word “persona” normally means “personality.” This would imply that God has three distinct “personalities.” You reject this definition. Instead, you hold forth an ethereal meaning.

Another example is the word “metaphor,” which is “a figure of speech in which one object is likened to another by speaking of it as if it was that other.” It is similar to a “parable.” We are told that Jesus taught primarily by means of parables. (Mark 4:33-34; Matthew 13:34) That certainly does not make what Jesus taught “fairy tales.” Parables, metaphors, and other figures of speech convey Jesus’ gospel message, whether spoken by him or by his apostles later.

Another example is the word, “one.” I do not see any connection between the word “one” and the doctrine of the trinity. Husbands and wives become “one.” Fellow Christians are “one” in Christ. Jesus was one with his Father in the same sense that we are one with him and with his Father. In all the Bible verses you referred to in proof of the Trinity, not one referred to a trinity in my understanding of it. Often, when I depart from an encounter with a friend, I say, “WE will see you later.” Am I saying that I have a dual personality? I hope not. (..)

I think that Christian dialogue with both Jews and Muslims is critically important in our day. Last year I read the Koran twice, as well as related materials on Islam. I made a very interesting discovery. Muhammad was a young man from what is today Saudi Arabia. He was very inquisitive in his search for God. First he consulted with Judaism and was told that Isaac was Abraham’s legitimate son, not Ishmael. Rebuffed by the Jews, Muhammad then consulted with Christianity . Once again he was rebuffed by being told that he could not have fellowship with Christians unless he believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Muhammad departed, for he could not believe in three Gods. The doctrine of the trinity, which is not clearly spelled out in the Bible, will always be a barrier between Christianity and those religions which hold to one God alone. There is one important link to dialogue with Muslims. Islam does regard Jesus as one of its prophets, but Muslims do not know his gospel message. What an opportunity we have to fill in this vacuum, not with Christianity’s dogma tradition, but with the actual teachings of Jesus, his good news gospel.

The heart of Jesus’ gospel message is this:

Rejoice that your heavenly Father is faithful, gracious, merciful, and forgiving by name and character.

Remember that you are the beloved sons of your heavenly Father, full of the honor, dignity, and worth which cannot be taken from you.

Keep in mind that you have been called to live a new life of righteousness in the following of Jesus Christ, the eternal life in you already now.

Cling to God’s gracious promise which will not fail you along life’s difficult wilderness journey. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Finally, I actually agree with this paragraph you wrote: “The Son prays to the Father. The Father sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descends on the Son. The personae act in both unity with each other and in distinction from each other.”

Is not the following statement likewise authentic? “Theophilus prays to the Father. The Father sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descends on Theophilus. The personae act in both unity with each other and in distinction from each other.”


TBR “Follower of the Way

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

We Christians have been using the word "persona" (person) in this specific context for nearly 2,000 years. I don't know how to clarify things for you any further than I have. Jesus is explicitly called God and described as having divine attributes in Scripture. And yet, Scripture is also clear, the Lord our God is one.

The Christian doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity is Scriptural, and has been held universally by orthodox Christians since the days of the apostles.

Jesus, as a teacher, often used metaphor, figures of speech, similes, parables (little fictional stories with a hidden message), even hyperbole. And yet, this does not reduce all of our Lord's actions into the realm of symbolism. A doctor may well use figures of speech and metaphor to explain my illness to me. And yet, this does not mean that he isn't really curing me of my ailment, or that I will not be physically cured. Likewise, our Lord's use of rhetoric does not mean His miracles are only tall tales. How sad to believe such a thing!

As to your question: "Is not the following statement likewise authentic? “Theophilus prays to the Father. The Father sends the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit descends on Theophilus. The personae act in both unity with each other and in distinction from each other.”"

This is what it means to be "in Christ." We have communion with our Lord, which places us in communion with the Most Holy Trinity. As St. Athanasius put it, "God became man so that man might become God." Jesus, as the Son, took human flesh, indeed divinizes mankind into the Godhead. And in Christ, we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4).

However, we are not God. You cannot turn water into wine, create the universe in six days, make the face of Moses shine, raise Lazarus from the dead, or save me by being crucified. Neither can I. And yet, Christians are "in Christ" whose righteousness is credit to them through faith as a free gift.

But you are still fudging on the question I have posed you. Let me try again:

Does the "gospel message" you keep speaking of mean that believers will literally walk out of their graves when they die? Where is Jesus right now - alive or dead? Where is Paul of Tarsus? Do we live after death, or is resurrection just another lame mataphor?

I do disagree about Jews and Muslims. They worship a different god than we do. Christianity completes the Judaism of the Old Testament. Islam is a made-up religion. The Koran contradicts the Bible - both Old and New Testaments.

Either Christianity or Islam is wrong, or they are both wrong. I believe in peaceful coexistence, but other than that, Muslims and Christians have absolutely nothing in common in terms of faith.


Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

In answer to your specific questions, I believe that Jesus’ resurrection occurred at the moment of his death, after he prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” OF COURSE, HE IS ALIVE!!!

Our resurrection will be the same, I believe, as Jesus indicates in Luke 20:34-38. We will be like the angels who have no physical bodies which engage in marriage and procreation. St. Paul makes the same claim in I Corinthians 15:35-57. We are buried with a “physical body” and raised with a “spiritual body.” Again, “If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. … Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. … Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” This is all pretty clear.

Yesterday, at a funeral, the preacher assured the grieving family, as they always do, that their loved one was alive and in the presence of God. I agree. Afterwards, his body was buried to return to the earth from which it came.

Regarding Judaism and Islam: We Christians are called to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth, including Jews and Muslims. Dialogue is critical! And the “link” to both is Jesus. My point is that when we dialogue with them, it is important to discuss Jesus’ actual gospel message, not Christianity’s later “truths” ABOUT him. I believe that in dialogue, both Jews and Muslims will be attracted to Jesus’ actual message. They certainly are not attracted to Christianity’s “orthodox truths” about him.

You claim that Christianity’s “orthodox truths” about God and about Jesus have been taught ever since the days of the apostles. I beg to disagree. Those “orthodox truths” about God and about Jesus were not formulated and imposed on Christians until the fourth century AD. Prior to that it was Jesus’ “covenant (OT) – gospel (NT)” message that was proclaimed, the message that made lives new and whole. That was sufficient then; it is sufficient now, at least for me and for Thomas Jefferson. (..)

Our dialogue via email is proving to be very difficult, for our understanding of the faith is quite different. I focus on Jesus’ actually gospel message, while you, it seems to me, focus on Christianity’s dogma-tradition and its “truths.” The result is that we continue to talk past each other.

There is one more “orthodox doctrine” that I want to challenge. After I get my challenge written out with clarity, I will email it to you for your response. Then I will probably rest my case and not consume your valuable time further. I have to say that this exchange has been very interesting to me.

TBR “Follower of the Way” (Acts 24:10-16)

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

In my previous email I neglected to spell out Jesus' message which I think would be attractive to both Jews and Muslims. Here it is in a brief summary

Your heavenly Father is faithful, gracious, merciful, and forgiving by name and character. He forgives you for the sake of his holy name, "Father."

You are the beloved sons of your heavenly Father, full of the honor, dignity, and worth which cannot be taken from you. There can now be no sense of superiority or inforiority among us.

You have been called to live a new life of righteousness in the following of Jesus, loving your neighbor as yourself, forgiving your enemy from the heart, and being a blessing to all the families of the earth. This is the eternal life in you already now.

Cling to God’s gracious promise which will not fail you along life’s difficult wilderness journey to the land of promise. “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” All of God's reliable promises will sustain you in faith, hope, and love.

This the message that makes broken lives new and whole. This is the message that unites us all in the peace of God.

TBR "Follower of the Way"

Theophilus said...


Previously I mentioned that Jesus is an important link between Chrsitianity and Islam. I went back to the Koran and found these important statements:

Regarding Allah (Arabic word for “God”): All of the 114 Surahs (chapters) begin with these words: “In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.”

Regarding our God-given name, “Son of God:” Islam understands the name, “Son of God” to be in every instance divinity language rather than covenant language. Therefore Islam rejects that name for either Jesus or for God’s people. Jesus in the Koran is always identified as “the son of Mary.” Here is what the Koran says about Jesus: “Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah gives you glad tidings of a word from him. His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the hereafter and of the company of those nearest to Allah.’” And again: “Allah sent down the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus before this, as a guide to mankind.”

Regarding a life of righteousness: The righteous are “those who do righteous deeds, who practice charity, who engage in regular prayers; who believe in Judgment Day, who believe in the resurrection from the grave, who believe God’s promises.”

Regarding God’s promises: “He never breaks his promise.”

Of course, Christians and Muslims differ in their interpretations. Nevertheless, these are important links that can enable meaningful dialogue between the two.

I think that in the course of such dialogue, Muslims will come to see the difference between Jesus’ and Muhammad’s messages and way of life epitomized in their own words:

Muhammad, the warrior: “When you meet the unbelievers in jihad, smite at their necks.”

Jesus, the peacemaker: “You have heard it said [in the tradition of the elders], ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’”

Which man will the Muslims find more attractive, once they come to know his message and his way of life???

TBR “Follower of the Way”

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Interestingly, according to Muslim sources, some six million Muslims a year are converting to Christianity. They do so because they no longer believe Islam is true.

I do believe in evangelizing Muslims. But, of course, this means that they will reject the Koran and believe the God of Holy Scripture. I don't believe in converting anyone at the point of a bayonet, but rather through the means the Most Holy Trinity has established - by the work of God the Holy Spirit through preaching and baptism.

Preaching for conversion is not "dialogue." It is "evangelism."

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

In believing in a physical, miraculous, supernatural resurrection of Jesus, you have parted company with Thomas Jefferson - who did not believe in the supernatural. The resurrection ended up on the cutting room floor in the Jefferson "Bible."

What puzzles me is that you accept the literal, physical miracle of a dead man walking out of His own tomb, but reject far lesser miracles, such as turning water into wine and healing lepers, deeming them mere metaphors based on reason. Reason tells me water doesn't become wine. Reason also tells me 1st century Jewish rabbis crucified by Romans don't rouse themselves from death either.

And you terribly misinterpret our Lord's discourse on marriage and procreation. He is referring to the vocation of marriage and of the need to procreate new people in this age. He is not denying a physical resurrection in the age to come. He says no such thing! For even in His own resurrection, He allowed the apostles to handle Him and place their fingers into His wounds. Jesus's resurrected body was flesh-and-blood - not a ghost. He specifically denies being a ghost, and eats a piece of fish to make the point!

You have been influenced by Greco-Roman Pagans, dualists, and Manichaeans who believed the "evil" body is separated from the "good" spirit at death. Such a teaching denies that matter is "good" - a theme resounding time and again in Genesis 1 and 2. Such a teaching also celebrates death - for death shed the "evil" material body from the "good" metaphysical spirit.

It is true that when a believer dies, His spirit is with our Lord, separated from the body... that is until the resurrection!

Check out Job 19:26: "And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God..."

"In my flesh."

Not in my "spirit." Not in someone else's "flesh." Not "out of" my flesh.

"In my flesh." In. My. Flesh.

You're also terribly mistaken that orthodox theology began in the fourth century. Goodness! Do you have a copy of the ten volumes of the Ante-Nicene Fathers? Like I said before, it was actually Tertullian who took the biblical teaching of the Trinity and applied theological terminology to this universal Christian doctrine. There is a continuous tradition from the apostles to the Council of Nicea that is undeniable.

There is a continuous chain of teaching from Jesus and the apostles, through Nicea, through the seven councils, all the way to today.

By contrast, a lot of modern people often read the Bible (in an English translation) apart from that great apostolic tradition, and come to conclusions *never before reached* in 2,000 years of Christian history, in Christian preaching, and in poring over every word of the Bible. If you are the only one seeing such a teaching in the Bible in 2009, if millions of people somehow missed it before you, chances are, you're wrong.